I remember being chased down an alley by a feral canine when I was 13. The alley was just some 10-feet across; but to my younger self, in that moment, it appeared like a football field. I sprinted as quickly as I could and soon reached the dead-end. The salivating dog with razor-like teeth cornered me. My immediate instinct was to pick up a stone and throw it to distract him. I then climbed up a building’s piping.
A few seconds later, I found myself dangling from a ledge on the walls of the building. I must have been hanging from at least 20 feet. At that moment, I felt something - I could see nothing but the ground; the feral dog; the throbbing bite; the strain on my shoulders; the sweaty palms… and the gravity that was bringing me down with all its vengeance. I carried the fear of heights I acquired on that fateful evening for years to come.
Now, I am a backpacker. So, you can imagine my horror when my fellow travellers ask me to scale a mountain with them. And before I agree to, I think of the dog, the gravity, the tension in my arms, the feeling of falling endlessly. To make it worse, mountains are unlike that building - there are no ferocious mutts… only a few thousand-feet pits.
If you are like me - afraid of heights but still adrenaline-fuelled - you need to read this list of 20 places to avoid if altitude isn’t your thing. Or conversely, 20 places you must visit to overcome your fear!
20 The Heavenly Stairs, 7000 ft, Mt Huashan, China
A few things that people with acrophobia (or others forms of fear or discomfort over heights) feel when on an elevated position -- such as a mountain or a table -- include nausea, breathlessness, and stomach cramps. If this is you, Mt Huashan is certainly a place you need to avoid.
Standing at 7,000 ft, Mt Huashan, also known as The Heavenly Stairs, is an old mountain range with an ancient set of steep man-made staircase. All you can see around is the deep, rocky valley with nothing but greenery and clouds as far as the eye can see.
If the altitude doesn’t make you sick, the long climb will. But if you dare, there is a reward at the summit - the world’s (allegedly) best tea.
19 Stairway To Nothingness, 8850 ft, Dachstein Glacier Skywalk, Austria
Visual beauty has the power to suppress fear. And that’s all that you need to fight non-clinical fears of heights. To overcome acrophobia though, it may take a little more effort.
Standing at 8,850 ft from sea-level, Dachstein Glacier in Austria is the go-to place to confront your nightmares. It offers four major attractions - a cantilevered deck with a small glass platform, one of the highest suspended bridges in the world, a literal ice palace, and Stairway To Nothingness.
The Nothingness is made entirely of glass and gives you the feeling of being magically suspended in the sky. All you see are clouds, icy peaks, and green plains. Would you risk standing on an invisible deck 8,000 ft above ground?
18 Lion’s Head, 2195 ft, Cape Town, South Africa
When you visit South Africa, don’t forget to hike the Lion’s Head in Cape Town. The 2,195-ft hill sits in a unique location. It hugs the shores of the ocean and lets you view most of the coastal city from its peak.
High-rise buildings, the expansive emerald Atlantic Seaboard, Precambrian rock formations, and animals you have never seen before - if these don’t sound like a place you should avoid, you must go for it. The best times to be at the summit of the mountain are at daybreak and on a full-moon day.
And, if you want to go beyond just scaling the mountain, you can fly (paragliding) - you will have professionals to assist you, all you need to do is climb.
17 Marina Bay Sands Hotel, 679 ft, Singapore
If price isn’t an issue, at 679 ft, Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore can prove a good low-risk testing ground for first-timers who wish to overcome the fear, but don’t want anything too boisterous and overwhelming to their brain’s fear center.
It offers a spellbinding mosaic of views - clear blue skies, sapphire waters, and avant-garde concrete buildings and bridges that spring to life in the night. To top it off, the Sands Hotel lets you stare at these views from its large infinity pool.
You may feel nervous in the beginning, but with a group of friends to swim by you and enough money to burn, you certainly can pull off this stunt.
16 Cliffwalk over Capilano Suspension Bridge, 300 ft, Vancouver, Canada
Although at a much lower elevation than Sands Hotel, Capilano Suspension Bridge is certainly not for the faint of heart; or, so says the Bridge’s website. And they may have a point. The 700-ft long bridge is suspended 300 ft above and across a river. It now offers “Cliffwalk” over Capilano.
The bridge protrudes from a granite cliff and meanders through a dense rainforest. The bridge is a series of “unobtrusive cantilevered and suspended walkway” with glass panels in some sections of the floor to give travellers a clear view of the canyon below.
If you are afraid of heights, we recommend the Sands over Cliffwalk. But, if you are up for reprogramming your frightened spirit, this is for you.
15 Half-Dome Mountain, 8838 ft, Yosemite National Park, California
There is a distinctly-shaped, 8,838-ft granite cliff in Yosemite National Park waiting to be climbed. Once considered inaccessible, the Half-Dome mountain today has over a dozen rock climbing routes and a hiking trail.
If you are hiking, you should first take the 13.7-km trail from the valley floor and then travel 3.2 km on a route that includes granite stairs. The final ascent is performed using a pair of braided steel cables close to the Anderson (the first climber) route.
There are dozens of other routes we wouldn’t recommend to non-professionals, let alone to a person with fear of heights. But hey, courage is not the absence of fear; it is the ability to go beyond it.
14 Rohtang Pass, 13050 ft, Himalayas, India
One of the most astounding works of mother Earth, the 13,050-ft Rohtang Pass is located on the eastern Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas. It connects a valley named Kullu with two other valleys, Spiti and Lahaul. The lush-green valley is cold year-round, and tall walls of ice form on either side the of the pass in winter. Sweet!
However, the enchanting pass with its exotic ecology and splendid panoramas is treacherous and accident-prone. Its wet roads are narrow in some places and twist and turn at every juncture. You could see buses, bikes and trucks all tip-toeing and hugging the mountain to avoid falling 13,000 feet. Need I say more?
13 CN Tower Main Pod, 1168 ft, Toronto, Canada
If Rohtang’s charm sounds too wild, you can always try the more easily-accessible CN Tower in Toronto. Standing at 1,814 ft, the Tower is the ninth tallest structure in the world.
But it isn’t just a telecommunications tower; it has something in store for thrill-seekers - EdgeWalk. The amusement allows visitors to walk on and around the roof of the structure at 1,168 ft. You are tethered to an overhead rail and made to walk around the edge of the main pod on a durable metal floor.
However, EdgeWalk is inaccessible throughout Winter and during thunderstorms and heavy gales. This gripping adventure can prepare you for your future high-rise endeavours.
12 Langkawi Sky Bridge, 2170 ft, Malaysia
The Langkawi Sky Bridge in Pulau Langkawi - the main island in the Langkawi archipelago off-coast Malaysia - offers a visual treat of the tropical paradise.
The Sky Bridge is a curved, cable-stayed bridge 2,170 ft above sea-level on the peak of Gunung Mat Chinchang mountain. The island and the bridge are frequented by hundreds of visitors and are quite family-friendly, offering little to no risk, as long as you abide by the rules.
Your anxiety may still peak when you walk along the rails of the bridge or stare into the green abyss. But the sky bridge is your best bet for a safe experience while you try to overcome your issues with heights.
11 Walk of Faith, 518 ft, Blackpool Tower, England
If you cannot afford visiting a tropical archipelago to treat your acrophobia, and instead prefer urban landscapes, you should try the Blackpool Tower in England.
Standing at 518 ft, the observation and radio tower sits next to has a glass deck called “Walk of Faith” that looks down a steep 500 ft. The view of the city and the Irish Sea from Walk of Faith is breathtaking. But the sight can make your pulse go haywire if you are not accustomed to heights.
To add to your woes, the Blackpool Tower sways when strong winds blow! No, that’s not a structural flaw; rather, a deliberate engineering marvel.
You may feel more anxious than before, but if you do take that leap of faith, you will thank yourself later.
10 Alpspitze Viewing Platform, 8600 ft, Bavaria, Germany
Probably one of the most beautiful places on Earth, the Alpspitze mountain in Bavaria with its popular Garmisch-Partenkirchen ski resort has a major attraction that blows away even seasoned mountaineers - two overlapping extended bridges on one of its cliffs.
Shaped like the letter X, these two bridges are the perfect spots for getting a panoramic view of the valley. You can also take a cable car from there to its neighbouring mountain range, Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak.
You may be wondering - why didn’t I just lead with Zugspitze? Well, you can sort of see my point. Zugspitze is more serious business. Once you get a hang of Alpspitze, you can go to Zugspitze. But don’t do them both in one day!
9 Trolltunga, 3600 ft, Norway
Trolltunga is a rock formation that shoots 3,600 ft above sea level and is one of the most ancient landforms in the world. You need professional training to scale this Ice-Age mountain, according to adventure associations in Norway.
The 27-km hike starts from Skjeggedal in Odda. The altitude is cold and daunting and low on oxygen, and the trail is filled with glacial potholes from a bygone era. Once you get to the slab, we do not recommend staring down without a (standard) harness and professional support, whether you love or hate heights.
If I were you, I would stay away from this 3600-ft natural bridge; or, would I?
8 Royal Gorge Bridge, 1053 ft, Colorado, USA
The highest bridge in the USA, the Royal Gorge is certainly not for the faint-hearted or wobbly-legged. But you are neither. You just have something you are trying to overcome!
The Bridge, which is 1053 ft above sea level, allows light motor vehicles to pass and has a park with a zipline. It crosses 955 ft above the Arkansas River.
If you are not up for a nauseating experience, you can ignore the bridge and instead go for a hike around Royal Gorge. You can take two hiking trails - Canyon Rim Trail and Overlook Trail. Of course, if you take these trails, you will reach a higher point than the Bridge.
7 Millau Viaduct, 1125 ft, Tarn, France
Even if you do not appreciate heights, if you happen to be in France and want to cross the magnificent Tarn valley and river, you will have to take the 1,125-ft Millau Viaduct.
The tallest suspension bridge in the world is loved by both causal tourists and adventurer seekers. Walking across the bridge is not permitted. But you can stop to view the valley and the bridge from a place called Service Area, which is at the mouth of the bridge.
Crossing the enigmatic engineering marvel may suppress your fear of high places. Halfway through your drive, the bridge disappears in dense clouds! And all that remain are your heart beats and your sudden realisation of the elevation.
6 Trift Bridge, 324 ft, Swiss Alps, Switzerland
The Trift Bridge was erected to help pedestrians reach the Trift Hut of the Swiss Alpine Club across the Trift Glacier, which was receding due to climate change and thus was no longer high enough to carry them on foot.
But due to its wintry backdrop, the blue lake, and the sheer thrill people got while walking on the bridge, it became a tourist magnet. If you want to walk across a rocky glacier, feel the cold winds blow, and relish the danger depth brings, this place in the Alps will serve you well.
But trembling knees isn’t something you’re willing to conquer, then you are probably better off where you are!
5 The Sphinx Observatory, 11,332 ft, Aletsch Glacier, Switzerland
Also known as the Top of Europe, the Jungfraujoch Alpine-wonderland in Switzerland is home to several natural and man-made marvels. Standing at 11,332 ft from sea-level and perched on a rocky cliff, the Sphinx Observatory is not just a centre of ground-breaking research for scientists, but also the most beautiful, seemingly perilous vantage point in the world.
Accessible by train (Europe’s highest), the Observatory allows tourists into its observation deck where you get to view the scene of a lifetime, the icy-blue and white Aletsch Glacier and the snow-capped rocky mountain ranges. The howling of air cutting through the valley evokes thrill, and is riveting to say the least. It gives you a true sense of the height you are at - 11,332 ft.
4 Mount Kailash, 21,778 ft, Tibet
The highest point of pilgrimage in the world, Mount Kailash is also an extremely challenging hike for people in general, and especially for those who want to overcome any fear of heights.
The mountain is 18,471 ft in height from foothill. It is of historic significance to the countries in the subcontinent, with each region having its own lore and legend for its existence and significance. It is located near some of the most placid and elegant lakes in Asia.
The altitude here can kill. Climbing the mountain, although nowhere as difficult as Mt. Everest, is an acrophobic person’s nightmare. I personally wouldn’t recommend, unless you are a trained, fit mountaineer.
The reward: Self-discovery and heavenly glaciers.
3 Burj Khalifa, 2716 ft, Dubai
This one needs a deep wallet more than courage, unless you decide to go Tom Cruise all over the 2,716-ft Burj Khalifa and attempt to actually scale it. Just remember what I said earlier, backwards - gravity, sweat, ground, rabid dog…!
Burj Khalifa, although not for everyone, offers a splendid view of the circuit-board-like city below and the vast arid desert. For this, it has a special observation deck at the top floor, which is literally named “at the top.”
If you decide to go here and put your fears to the test, this is a good place that offers unparalleled safety over the spectacular city of Dubai.
2 Arthur’s Pass National Park, 2424 ft, New Zealand
One of the most beautiful locations in Oceania, Arthur’s Pass National Park is famous for its waterfalls, dense alpine vegetation, meadows, and the mountain summit.
Situated in the South Island of New Zealand, the summit of Arthur’s Pass has a wild reputation among adventurers. There are several vertical peaks in the range, including Avalanche Peak, Mt Cassidy, Mt Temple, Mt Bealey, and Mt Porters.
All of these are tough to scale and require training. This can be a great area for squeezing the fear out of you. At the end, you are met with some of the most gorgeous views in the southern hemisphere.
1 The Ledge, Sears Tower, 1300 ft, Chicago, USA
Finally, if you are looking for something less ostentatious but equally thrilling and gorgeous, you can head to Sears Tower, or Willis Tower, in Chicago, USA.
The 1,300-ft building has an observation deck called Skydeck. It has a glass balcony that offers a rich, panoramic view of the city. The depth and the expanse is bound to send shivers down your spine.
There is something beautiful about fear and something even more beautiful about heights. It gives you the true measure of everything around you and puts everything in perspective.
As I said earlier, courage isn’t about lacking fear. It is about braving the fear and scaling the odds. Visit these, or any other site, and embrace your nightmare.
References: the guardian, foursquare